Zach Wilson stabilizes to end NFL debut on promising note

Zach Wilson Jets
Sep 12, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) scores a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at Bank of America Stadium.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

This will likely be the first of many learning experiences for Zach Wilson, who was greeted rather rudely to life as an NFL quarterback on Sunday in a 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The 22-year-old struggled for roughly 37 of 60 minutes in his debut, having to scramble — both figuratively and literally — to acclimate to life in the pros. While former Jet Sam Darnold ripped his old team apart in the first half, Wilson completed just 6-of-16 passes for 84 yards and an interception for a passer rating of just 29.2.

His interception killed early Jets momentum after getting into Panthers territory for the first time of the day in the first quarter.

“I need to get the ball out of my hands faster,” Wilson lamented. 

“Even on his interception, he didn’t put the zip that he needed to put on it,” head coach Robert Saleh, who also made his Jets debut on Sunday, said.

But Wilson recovered, recording two touchdown passes to new wide receiver Corey Davis to spark a comeback that ultimately fell short, ending his day completing 20-of-37 attempts for 258 yards and an 82.9 passer rating.

“Really, I felt like I was seeing the field well, even early on when we struggled a little bit,” Wilson said. “I felt like I was seeing what I was supposed to be seeing and I just felt like we were a little bit short on execution.”

His turnaround was even more impressive considering the Jets’ defense did little to support the rookie. Wilson was sacked six times and pressured a whole lot more throughout the afternoon, including a late fourth-quarter takedown which he admitted  felt like he “got hit by a truck for a second.”

“You just gotta stand up and keep going, you know?” Wilson asked. “I was fine, just got the wind knocked out of me a little bit.”

Ultimately, an unsuccessful day in the win-loss column, but a promising day of developing for the perceived franchise quarterback.

“The kid’s been hit before, he took some shots today but he got back up, he showed resolve, and he’s fearless,” Saleh said. “He’s only going to get better from this… A lot of great things for him to learn off of and we’re still really excited about him.”

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